Internet Nostalgia

Let’s Revisit Susan Boyle on “Britain’s Got Talent”

Pay attention to what happens before she starts singing.

Will Leitch
4 min readJun 11, 2021

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Welcome to part 15 of our Internet Nostalgia series, which looks back at phenomena that captured the internet’s imagination and attention for a fleeting moment and then vanished as everyone moved on to something else. This series looks back at those olden times and what they told us about the internet and ourselves. If you have a suggested topic, email me at williamfleitch@yahoo.com. Last week, Lazy Sunday. This week: Susan Boyle’s first appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

Date: April 11, 2009.

The Story: Susan Boyle could always sing. She had spent years entering singing competitions, but she was never able to break through, and after her mother’s death in 2007, she stopped singing entirely. But two years later, inspired by her mother’s constant attempts to encourage her to join the competition, she applied to be a contestant on “Britain’s Got Talent,” the wildly successful amateur singing competition co-hosted by Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden. Nervous, she stepped on stage, to titters from the crowd. She then opened her mouth to sing and a truly, truly glorious, transcendent sound came out.

The airing was April 2009, but the performance was actually recorded in August 2008. This allowed the BGT production crew to milk the surprise for all it could possibly be worth. They promoted the episode for weeks, teasing it as “look at some of the yokels we put on the air sometimes,” allowing them to soak in the surprise when it turned out that this woman did, in fact, have the voice of an angel.

The response was immediate and overwhelming, so much so that Boyle, shortly after the airing, checked into a hospital with exhaustion. (Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown made sure to wish her well.) Her first album came out three months later and quickly became the biggest-selling debut album in the history of the UK. The…

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Will Leitch

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com